Faced with what is now a national audience of interest, Citrus County commissioners on Tuesday gave no hint of backing down on their decision to block the library system from a New York Times digital subscription.
Instead, commissioners turned the criticism they’ve received back at those dishing it, including citizens attending the board meeting who booed when a Citrus Springs woman said she supported the board’s decision.
Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. said the county is right to block the digital Times subscription. While he did not echo fellow Commissioner Scott Carnahan’s description of the Times as “fake news,” Kitchen said the decision is in line with his political beliefs.
“Guess what we’re attacked for: Some of us support the president of the United States,” he said. “I’m not backing off one inch.”
Commissioners met for the first time since Oct. 24, when a seemingly innocuous item on the agenda — board approval on a three-year digital subscription of the New York Times for county libraries — ran into immediate trouble.
After Kitchen questioned spending $2,700 a year for a New York Times subscription, Carnahan jumped in saying he supported President Trump’s assertion that the Times is “fake news.”
“I don’t want the New York Times in this county,” Carnahan said then.
Other commissioners agreed and the matter was dropped.
Residents, though, had many thoughts on the matter. The Chronicle was flooded with emails, online comments, letters to the editor and Sound Off calls.
Then Tuesday morning, The Washington Post picked up the story, other major news organizations followed throughout the day, and Twitter jumped with comments.
Nine showed up at Tuesday’s board meeting, and all but one were critical. Here’s a sampling:
-- Joann Henderson, Inverness, a retired teacher, regarding the subscription contract: “All you have to do is sign it. So, sign it, This isn’t the first time I’ve told young scalawags to stop talking and do your job!”
-- Kit Plourde, Hernando: “You’re elected to serve all of us, whether we’re Republicans or Democrats. Libraries are sacred. They’re to serve everyone.”
-- Renee Reich, Inverness, after watching video of the board’s Oct. 24 discussion: “It was, to say the least, appalling. Access to information is the heart of the library.”
Janet Barek, president of the Citrus Springs Civic Association and a frequent county commission attendee, sided with commissioners.
“The news in there is not news,” she said to a chorus of boos. “It is going into opinion.”
Kitchen took exception to that reaction and also when several audience members got up to leave after public comment concluded, which is when commissioners offer comments on what was said.
“You booed her down like an angry mob,” he said. “Shame on you!”
Carnahan offered no opinion of the newspaper but said he believes Citrus is firmly behind the board.
“We were elected unanimously in this county by conservative Republicans,” he said.
Commissioners Brian Coleman and Chairman Jeff Kinnard both said some of the public response, especially in the last day or two, has been unfair.
“I’ve got emails that just said ‘F.U.’” Coleman said.
Coleman and others also noted the matter will be coming back for discussion and possibly a vote at the Nov. 19 organizational meeting during which, coincidentally, Coleman is expected to be named chairman.